Friday, 7 February 2020

Sri Lanka January 2020. Part 6 Yala, the Good the Bad and the Ugly continued!

Our 5 nights were soon gone at Tissa and it was time to return to Cinnamon Wild for another three night stay which would include the whole day safari into Block 1.
Before we left Serene Park we feasted on a special breakfast, a token of appreciation from our host for our patronage. Most of his guests appeared to be groups of touring Chinese who descended late in the evening and left the early following morning never to be seen again. The half day safari brigade.
We on the other hand had eaten there every evening and drank copious quantities of beer to help boost his takings! I had also taken some snaps of his new pool for him to post on his website.
Serene Park hotel, Tissa
Fair do's, they had worked hard to build up this business, it seemed the hotel hadn't been there very long and had only got planning permission in the prime lake frontage location as his farm house had been there before. They still owned some of the surrounding rice fields.
I paid my bill but did pass comment that the price of the safaris was a bit expensive compared to the advertised rates in town. The main man helper who handled payment asked if there was a mistake to which I replied, no mistake, it's what was agreed.
I had always had a nagging doubt that I was paying over the odds but it was still a lot cheaper than Cinnamon had quoted. Time had passed since my last all day safaris four years previously but I could have sworn I only paid £60 or there abouts for two of us then.
When I had enquired about a taxi to leave Cinnamon to go to Tissa, reception there had quoted R3750. A message to Serene and they sent one for R3000. It's not that far, and time wise it's only 30 minutes due to the state of the road to Cinnamon being very poor but compared to the trips from Negombo and Galle it still seemed expensive but you accept what it is. The 3000 had been added to my bill.
Now we were leaving, it would be interesting to see what the taxi charged on the return journey as I would be paying directly. As we bade our genuinely fond farewells I was told by our host the taxi back was on him. We thanked him for this kind gesture but at the same time my suspicious mind wondered if this was so we didn't find out how much the ride really cost. Maybe his way of making amends for the overpriced safaris too.
Anyway, the moral of the story is "shop around" or "put up". We all have a choice!

Back in the same room in Cinnamon by request, it was very conveniently placed for the safari pick up point at the rear entrance. How many of these safaris are booked through the hotel I wouldn't know. Many people have signed up for tours of the whole island and these trips are part of the package.
Anyway, the alarm went off at 4.15, so it was a particularly early start! Claire was feeling unwell and asked if I minded her not coming. More to the point I asked if it was OK for me still to go. 
She replied that it wasn't a problem, she'd be OK. She was suffering badly with a bad chest, sore throat and blocked sinuses which had been plaguing her for sometime and certainly not something she picked up in Sri Lanka.
Anyway, with her blessing off I went. 
The benefit of being at Cinnamon is that it's a very short drive to Yala Block 1 entrance gate. We were there an hour before they opened and about jeep number 30 in the queue. 
It was still dark and I sat there alone wondering what I was doing there. Was this a dreadful mistake!
I had already told my driver who'd brought along a teenager, his younger brother perhaps, as an extra pair of eyes that I was not interested in Leopard jams and he was to stay away from them if possible!
He told me had he known he would have arranged to pick me up an hour later! The whole point of getting to the top of the queue was to be first at the Leopard sightings!
I wondered if he had any knowledge of birds whatsoever but he soon demonstrated that he did.
Once inside most jeeps shot off in the same direction. We didn't!
We headed down to the sea and were soon on to some good sightings.
Little Stint
Little Stint   Calidris minuta
and Little Ringed Plover in the early morning light looking good.
Little Ringed Plover  Charadrius dubius
Next we headed off down a side road and although there were other jeeps about they were not interfering with my enjoyment.
Both driver and the youngster had superb eyesight too, spotting things I would have missed.
I was asked what I specifically wanted to see and I listed Indian Pitta as my top priority.
Much to my delight they found me one in shaded undergrowth I would never have spotted myself.
Indian Pitta   Pitta brachyura
"What next?" 
"Chestnut-Headed Bee-eater" I replied.
They duly obliged!
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti
These two were good, very good. Better still they understood where I needed to be for a photo opportunity too. The youngster in the back instructing the driver where to put me in the perfect position for a shot.
As the morning wore on we started to see fewer and fewer jeeps and as we headed deeper in to the park most if not all of the traffic was heading out the other way.
Soon we found ourselves on empty trails! Magic.
Block 1 Yala NP Sri Lanka
Further along this particular track we suddenly spotted a Leopard walking right across the front of us at the upcoming crossroads. We had a clear view of the animal too but unfortunately by the time the vehicle stopped it was too late to get a shot, while it was moving, impossible to keep focus.
We took a right in the direction the Leopard had gone but he had left the road and was heading in to the bush.
Just missed!
Just too late but we'd had the sighting all to ourselves!
It was lunchtime and the safari vehicles are obliged to gather at a given lunch spot leaving the park free of traffic for an hour or two. There were just 13 jeeps here, the sum total of those on all day safaris which when you consider there are usually around 200 plus jeeps in the park. it wasn't a high percentage.
We set off again around 2.00pm and the number of jeeps stayed minimal until around 3.30-4.00pm when the evening safari vehicles arrived. Once again, we steered clear of the jams. Leopards had been seen but we were not party to it as instructed.
The afternoon continued in much the way of the morning session, we saw lots of species, most which I'd seen before but this time the sightings were much better.
Crested Hawk-eagle  Nisaetus cirrhatus
We didn't just see birds either, we had fabulous close up views of Elephant as well.
This particular one was interesting as it was feeding in a manner I haven't seen before. Food appeared to be plentiful with greenery everywhere but he was after something different. Kicking the ground he created clumps of turf which he then shook free of soil with his trunk before eating. The roots must have been tasty!

Indian Elephant   Elephas maximus indicusAll in all it was a very successful day and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again, I just wished I'd found this guide from the off. Still, I have his details for future reference and he sent us some video footage of a Sloth Bear right alongside his vehicle the other day too.
Had we had another spare day I might have booked another full day out but alas, it was too late, we were moving on, next stop Mirissa and the Spice House Guest House.This was somewhere I have stopped twice before, it's a special place and knew what to expect...or so I thought.


  1. Another excellent read Dave! Some great sightings too, especially the owl, even if you didn't have the quantity you'd hoped for. I see what you mean about Block 5/Wilpattu now. Like you, I thought Block 5 (and Wilpattu) would be great if only, primarily, to avoid the crowds. Perhaps Block 1 with the right driver is the way to go to ensure the wildlife sightings. I see too, your pictures are up to your usual high standard.

  2. Thanks Ian, you are too kind. Pleased to be able to share my experiences, hopefully to benefit others or at least entertain!